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Not Feeling Ten White Jurors Were Right for the Jury Is Not a Sufficient Justification under Batson

In State v. Giles, the supreme court held that a race neutral explanation, although it may be implausible or fantastic, must be clear and reasonably specific to provide the movant an opportunity to prove the justification is pre-textual.

During jury selection, Giles, representing himself with standby counsel, used his peremptory challenges to strike eight white males and two white females.  The State requested an inquiry pursuant to Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986).  The trial court asked Giles why he excluded the jurors, and his standby counsel stated that Giles “did not feel the jurors were right for the jury.”  The trial court agreed that this was a race neutral reason, but did not provide any support for whether the decision was pre-textual.  The trail court granted the State’s motion and quashed the jury panel.  Thereafter, a jury convicted James A. Giles of first-degree burglary, strong arm robbery, and kidnapping. 

Giles appealed to the court of appeals, which affirmed the judgment.  On appeal at the supreme court, the issue was “whether the trial judge erred in failing to follow the three-step process outlined in Batson for determining whether a peremptory challenge was based on race.”  In Batson, the United States Supreme Court outlined a three-step process for determining whether peremptory strikes have been used to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.  As stated by the Giles Court (citing Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 97-98 (1986)):

“First, the opponent of the peremptory challenge must make a prima facie showing that the challenge was based on race.  If a sufficient showing is made, the trial court will move to the second step in the process, which requires the proponent of the challenge to provide a race neutral explanation for the challenge.  If the trial court finds that burden has been met, the process will proceed to the third step, at which point the trial court must determine whether the opponent of the challenge to prove purposeful discrimination.”

Giles argued that because the trial court agreed his reason was race neutral, the court should have moved to the third step of the analysis.  After examining cases decided by other states, the court determined that for a justification to be legally sufficient to satisfy the second prong, the explanation “need not be persuasive, or even plausible, but it must be clear and reasonably specific such that the opponent of the challenge has a full and fair opportunity to demonstrate pretext in the reason given” and provide the trial court the ability to assess its plausibility.  Accordingly, the court held that Giles’s justification did not provide such an opportunity.

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